This occasions a serious rethink about those who contribute to syllabus setting for schools in India. The Maharashtra State Education Board has come up with some astounding inputs on dowry in its Class 12 sociology textbook. It says that the “ugliness of the girl” is one of the reasons for families seeking dowry at the time of marriage. This is how a particularly insensitive paragraph from Chapter 3 of the book reads: “If a girl is ugly and handicapped, it becomes very difficult for her to get married. To marry her, the girl’s bridegroom and his family demand more dowry. The helpless parents of such girls are then forced to pay up…” The book has been used by thousands of students over the last two years to prepare for their board examinations. The purpose of this gratuitous and ugly text makes one wonder what those who framed it were seeking to achieve. Was it to show that dowry is an evil? If so, what on earth was the need to bring a girl’s looks into the picture, or for that matter her handicap.
Since textbooks are used as the core of teaching in 70-95% of classrooms, it is imperative that such books are written by expert educationists and aimed at imparting a progressive view to children rather than reinforce prejudices. But this is nothing new. Gender biases in textbooks are quite prevalent across states. Some teachers and professors have gone on record saying that they actually skip the more regressive and nonsensical bits in textbooks as they go along. This reference to dowry in such an unacceptable way is of a piece with another chapter in a class 8 textbook in Rajasthan on the Sindhi poet Sant Kanwar Ram in which it says that it is a “woman’s duty to follow her man”.
While these are downright offensive, many textbooks reflect gender biases in the way boys and girls are portrayed. The boys are often shown as athletic while the girls are either shrinking violets or shown as engaged in more domestic pursuits. Women are rarely shown as policy makers, administrators or even patriots, those are reserved for men. Apart these biases, many textbooks are not written in a child friendly manner and are replete with grammatical and spelling errors. The offending textbook which refers to dowry should be withdrawn or at least the chapter deleted. But the more important issue is that there must be far more care and much greater expertise in producing content for textbooks. Children at an impressionable age should receive accurate and relevant information, not such biased and gender insensitive inputs.